Contributed by Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages
This year’s Tourism Week in Canada coincides with a turning point in the COVID-19 pandemic. With Canada’s vaccine rollout well under way, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard, and while the future remains uncertain, it also holds promise. Attention is turning to ensuring a strong recovery that will make the sector vibrant and thriving once again.
Government of Canada has your back
The Government of Canada remains committed to supporting Canadians and to doing whatever it takes to get us through this pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have put in place a range of new and extended supports to help small businesses get through the pandemic and set us up for a strong recovery. To date, the Government has provided an estimated $15.4 billion in support to the tourism, arts and culture sectors. This includes help to pay workers through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, support for rent and mortgages through the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support, and support for small businesses through the Canada Emergency Business Account.
Recognizing that ongoing lockdowns and other COVID-19 impacts continue to take a toll on the tourism sector, the Government has announced further measures specifically aimed at supporting the sector’s transition to recovery. Budget 2021 proposes a number of measures to help the sector in the medium term. A $1-billion package of supports aimed at revitalizing the sector includes:
The creation of the $500-million Tourism Relief Fund
$200 million for major festivals
$200 million for community festivals and local events
$100 million to support Destination Canada marketing campaigns aimed at helping Canadians and other visitors walk through the doors of businesses that have worked so hard to stay open, when it becomes safe to do so
Support for the air transport sector has also been introduced. As a vast country, Canada relies on air transportation to facilitate the flow of people and goods. Maintaining and rebuilding air transportation will therefore play an important role in the overall recovery effort. The Government has announced measures to help airlines, airports and regional networks survive the pandemic and prepare for a safe restart once conditions allow.
Brighter days are ahead
The Government of Canada estimates that enough vaccines will be coming into Canada to allow for every eligible Canadian to receive their first dose by this summer and their second dose by fall. If these vaccination targets are met, a return to more normal life could be possible in the coming months.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) preliminary guidelines on resuming normal life after vaccination, Canadians could enjoy camping, hiking, picnicking and having meals on patios this summer, though crowded gatherings would still need to be avoided. The PHAC’s guidelines also suggest that restrictions could start to be lifted once at least 75% of those eligible for vaccines have their first dose and 20% have their second dose. It also bears emphasizing that many decisions around the easing of restrictions must be made by the provinces and territories. I continue to meet regularly with my provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss issues related to travel and tourism in Canada. I am also engaged on the international level. In previous years, Canada has welcomed over 20 million international tourists annually, so it’s clear that international collaboration will be essential.
I also recently attended the G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting virtually to endorse guidelines in support of a resilient and sustainable tourism sector. Canada looks forward to ongoing collaboration with international partners to ensure that travel will be safe and seamless. Using vaccine certification to facilitate international travel and manage our border is a part of those discussions.
Building back better
In 2019, the Government released Creating Middle Class Jobs: A Federal Tourism Growth Strategy. While COVID-19 has drastically changed the tourism landscape in Canada, the opportunities, objectives and means of achieving them identified in the growth strategy are still relevant. Indeed, some elements, such as the focus on greater seasonal and geographic dispersion, are arguably more necessary than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed key vulnerabilities, an important one being the heavy seasonal demand. When the tourism sector rebuilds itself, attracting tourists to visit during the winter and shoulder seasons as well as beyond the usual destinations will help it become more resilient to disruptions like those we have experienced during the pandemic. We will also continue our efforts with the private sector, including our largest airlines, to encourage the active celebration of Canada's tourism destinations. And we will work to bring back Canada’s festivals and events, from the largest, internationally renowned events to the local festivals and heritage celebrations that draw visitors to our communities.
Over the past year, the tourism sector’s resilience has been truly remarkable. Keeping that spirit alive and fuelling it further will be key to recovery, and eventually, growth. Beyond the changes it has caused in terms of protecting health, the pandemic has also accelerated the economy’s digital transformation. To help businesses adopt new technologies, meet the changing needs of customers and stay competitive, the Government announced the Canada Digital Adoption Program. This $1.4-billion program will provide micro-grants to help offset the costs of going digital and support digital trainers to help small and medium-sized businesses adopt new technology.
An informed approach
A final element to touch on is the role data will play in guiding the tourism sector’s recovery. To move from survival to recovery, and eventually to growth, we need relevant, accurate and timely data to draw a detailed picture of the state of the industry. This information will allow us, in collaboration with other levels of government and key stakeholders, to make informed decisions as recovery progresses.
Canada has so many destinations, attractions and wide-open spaces to discover, and we know tourism businesses are eager to welcome travellers back once conditions allow. Businesses in the tourism sector have been a source of great pride in this country, and we expect that tourism will continue to shine a bright light on all Canada has to offer. The path ahead won’t be easy, but the Government has confidence in the tourism sector’s future and will be there to help meet the challenges ahead